Blowing off some steam in Reykjavik

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August 20th 2012
Published: August 20th 2012
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Fish of the dayFish of the dayFish of the day

Halibut...doing our part to support the local economy!
One of the first things you need to know is that when you visit this land during the days of seemingly unlimited daylight is that there is in fact very little ice to be seen unless you look up at the mountains and glaciers. At least for us here in the southwestern part of the country that is the case. Not that this is or could possibly be any kind of problem. The main reason is that Iceland is a geothermal delight and they make great use of all this natural gaseous supply to heat and light almost the entire land. guggabraga tells us that anytime you see “reyk” as part of any name is an indication there is natural geothermal steam about. Look at enough geyers, mudpots, and thermal springs and the next thing you know you’ve got a catchy little name for a blog. Aren’t we the creative ones?

We had three nights in Iceland before running off to Greenland. We came back for another two nights and are now heading to the Faroe Islands for a peak around. Once again we found a land spot “in the neighborhood” so off we go.

Beautiful architectureBeautiful architectureBeautiful architecture

The Church of Hallgrimur. A Reykjavik landmark.

In the past two weeks we have stayed up past mid-night more than we have stayed up that late in the past two or three years and that includes New Year’s Eve as well. This is in part due to the additional days of sunlight here above the 65th parallel and that we no longer have to arise at the ungodly hour of five in the morning for work. Good for us…..


Our lodging location and our natural curiosity immediately found us meandering the streets of Reykjavik and we instantly decided we liked the vibe here. It is a clean and well cared for city and feels safe. A look at all the back- packs will assist you in determining who are the locals and who is just visiting. And from the looks of things, tourists were in no short supply. Good news for the local economy. Several of the streets in the city center are for pedestrians and bicycles only….or a skateboard or two. Several bands can be heard in the evenings starting around 9pm or 10pm. Earlier in the evening you can hear them doing sound checks and practicing. Always cool

This is a seriously cool waterfall.
to see people in the downtown streets of a city just busy living the life. In the U.S. this sadly is not always the case as many downtown areas have been abandoned for the suburbs and the endless strip malls.

During our first day of strolling about, we saw a sign on a bar window that read, “If you are racists, sexist, a homophobic or an asshole….don’t come in”. After some laughter and photos we immediately went in for a beer. How could we refuse an invitation like this? This eclectic little bar named Lebowski’s had something to offer for let us say the “not so straight forward and normal” crowd. For those not familiar with the American movie “The Big Lebowski,” it is a movie about a rather burned out character and the “sport” they indulge in is bowling. Some might decide there was an abstract piece of artwork on the wall and others might say they slapped a bowling lane up on the wall. ..either way it was clever. (The picture of Harry Truman bowling in a suit was priceless as well) Just to the left of the bar was a large screen TV playing “Back to the Future” with subtitles. We decided we might have watched this show a few too many times as we seemed to know many of the lines that were coming next. Doesn’t everyone know what a flux capacitor is?

The bar’s motif was a play on bowling and many things American, including music from the ‘70’s. Our twenty-something barmaid had an incredible tattoo on her arm of Elvis and Marilyn and she let us take a photo! (see below) Oriental rugs lined the base of the bar. Unique and clever signs were posted about the room. As we listened to Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mack, American Pie and Heart of Gold by Neil Young we sipped on our Tuborg Gold Classic, simply enjoying the moment.

We asked the young lady working the bar for a restaurant recommendation as we were looking for some Icelandic fish. She gave us directions to a place up the street where we could eat whale. We didn’t go into our philosophical diatribe with her about all the reasons we did not want to eat whale. As divers and conversationalists it was not for us. …fine
Meat SoupMeat SoupMeat Soup

for others. We absolutely understand that this great beast is part of the economy here in the North Atlantic. We headed in the opposite direction and dined in an Italian restaurant that served a piece of tuna that melted in your mouth.

Everyone in Iceland has been extremely friendly. Not just the people who are in the tourist industry, but everyone we have encountered. As strangers we are most appreciative and wish our fellow countrymen could take a lesson or two. The Icelandic people are also incredibly bilingual and switch from their native tongue to perfect English almost flawlessly. You walk up, say “hello” utilizing your best American accent and they show you a better command of English than many Americans…..impressive.

The centerpiece of Reykjavik is the church of Hallgrimur. It has stunning architectural lines and inside possesses a stark beauty that is very inviting. Some 96 percent of this nation is Lutheran and this edifice is the crown jewel of its churches. It can be seen from miles away and allowed us a great navigational point of reference during our stay. Unlike the many great cathedrals of Europe, this has a modern simplistic sleek style to it and is quite hip. Not sure where you are? Just look around and you will spot the church tower and instantly know which direction to head.

We are told that Bill Clinton likes Iceland and has visited many times. He has helped a small hot dog stand downtown become famous. Evidently, he is quite fond of their hot dogs. As Americans, we needed to verify this and can concur that they are most tasty! Bill Clinton and wieners (insert joke here).

We had intended to go out to the island to look at the Ono Peace pole but had some confusion in our minds as to what it looked like. It is on a small island very close to the main land. From what we can tell it is a squatty circular structure housing a light which projects into the night sky. From the date of his birth in October until the day of his death in December the blue light fills the sky. It is completely funded by Yoko Ono. Gugga relates that the light is also lit on New Year’s Eve. We’re sorry we won’t be around to see it illuminate the evening skies.

Cultural Night Festival

Each year on or about August 18th Reykjavik has a cultural night festival. The city streets are shut down so bands can set up on street corners and people can wander about. Music fills the air. Beer stands are set up along the sidewalks and the streets are packed with happy partygoers. This was a calm and peaceful crowd. There were a few who had imbibed in too much alcohol and there were sweet tobacco smells (hint, hint) wafting in the air. We must have stopped to listen to 6 or 8 different bands. One of our favorites was playing in the grand bandstand and they were called the KK Band. We hope to purchase some of their music on iTunes. There were probably about a dozen public venues to listen to everything from serious rock, to techno, Icelandic rap, the blues and more. The main stage had many professional acts and at the conclusion of the music there was a fireworks display. Seems the whole world really enjoys the sight and sounds a first class display.

The Golden Circle Tour

In years past, flights with a stopover in Iceland have been provided at discount rates for those headed “across the pond.” Because of that many visitors have paused to take a look around for a few days. One tour any tourist worth their muster should take in is the Golden Circle Tour. It is a day trip from Reykjavik that takes about 6 to 8 hours. It gives you a nice overview of what this beautiful country has offer with geysers, waterfalls and the like. Even though we were quite tired from flying all night and it was raining sideways at times, this was a great sample of Icelandic beauty. We can only imagine how much more stunning it would have been in fair weather. Cheated? No way. This drive is an illustration of the great forces of nature that formed this nation island. Both of us are from the flat lands of the Midwest part of America originally and we never tire of great landscapes and vistas.

Gullfoss is an amazing waterfall along the Golden Circle. An Icelander named Sigriour Tomasdottir is considered the environmental hero that saved these falls. At the turn of the 20th century there was interest in harnessing the energy from the islands waterfalls and she fought for years to preserve this one. In 1979, it was officially placed in protection. This goes to show one person passion can make a difference in the noble pursuit of preserving nature.

Along those lines, it became apparent quite early that there are so many waterfalls in Iceland we have already begun to lose count. We can only hope we mark the photos with the correct names. Forgive us for any errors—there are so many to remember and many are unnamed because they are too small by Icelandic standards. In the States, they would be celebrated for their majesty.

When you travel, gaining useful and interesting information about the land you are looking at is invaluable. One of the advantages of having Gugga as our local guide is her wealth of knowledge of the history. As we explore, she regales us with one story after another, which we take in with fascination. A tale of a man who many years ago went fishing on a Sunday instead of going to church as his family needed food. He
Viking BeerViking BeerViking Beer

Icelandic beer. What other name would be appropriate?
was successful that day and decided to go the following Sunday even though his family had enough food. He hooked a stingray only to see it fly off of his lure and become part of the nearby mountain. The moral of the story is not to go fishing on Sunday unless your family is hungry, otherwise get to church. We can only hope that we come close when trying to pass stories like these on. Not just the average geological and historical stories, but also tales of trolls and gnomes and the folklore that the Icelandic people have spreading for over one thousands years. Just imagine all the great tales that were told in years past during those dark winter nights….

Visiting a hospital and research center

We asked Gugga if it would be possible to visit the local hospital. No, we weren’t in need of medical care, but as nurses, we have a certain “morbid” curiosity about them. We both have worked in the surgery department and thought it would be a great experience to look in on their operating rooms. As luck would have it with Gugga’s assistance, we were able to
Amazing tatooAmazing tatooAmazing tatoo

Elvis & Marilyn
find the head nurse of the operating room and she allowed us to don some scrubs and have a look around. The facilities were quite modern at the city hospital and we can report they can be quite proud of their department. They had some equipment that Dave’s last hospital has wanted for some time. They possessed a GlideScope and a fine example of a PACS system for you operating room people out there. It appears their tax dollars are well spent.

Gugga works at the research center and was able to provide us with a tour of the stem cell lab and we were lucky enough to meet a couple of the researchers doing their impressive work in the lab. MJ found this particularly interesting as she used to work at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. These men and women of science suffer from the same woes as their international counterparts, lack of funding. Grant writing provides their main source of monies to carry on the vital research for the cure to many disease processes. Anyone from GlaxoSmithKline listening??

Southwestern touring

It was time to get out of the city again and look at the beauty landscape. We drove the circumference of the Whale fjord stopping along the way, explored a church that dated from the 1800’s and learned the story of Snorri Sturluson, who was an Icelandic icon from the 1200’s who was a politician, writer and many other feats who supposedly told the King of Norway that the Icelanders would pay taxes to the kingdom. He went home and did nothing. The Norwegian king had him tracked down and killed.

There is great beauty around almost every bend and we were constantly amazed at the variety of landscapes. We also got to take in the Lava Falls--- which is currently one of our favorite waterfalls. It is unique in that the water appears mysteriously out of the rocks and is very wide. It feeds a glacier river from the side of the river lava rocks. Its waters are filtered by the rocks and is clear. Very unique. And to think we are just getting started! We have ten more wonderful days here.

Stay tuned……we’re off to the Faroe Islands and will return very soon to this most interesting nation. In the meantime, here are some Icelandic facts:

A few Icelandic Facts:

The national currency is the Icelandic krfna. One krfna is equal to .0083 USD. But what does this really mean? Reality check time. A beer cost between $8 & $9. Yikes! What is possibly more amazing is that we discovered that beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989. Liquor and wine were acceptable, but the fine mixture of hops and grains was not…..curious. Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that in a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect Jan. 1, 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland's main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines; then lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favor of legalizing spirits. Strong beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25%!o(MISSING)r more, however, was not included in the 1935 vote in order to please the temperance lobby -- which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would lead to more depravity. Not that hard liquor and wine would lead to this type of behavior, right?

This country has almost a 100%!l(MISSING)iteracy rate. That seems amazing to us.

Iceland is the 2nd largest island in Europe, but where is it located?

The southeast coast is 798km from Scotland, the eastern end is 970km from Norway and the Westfjords lie 287km east of Greenland.

When one arrives in Iceland they honestly wish they had paid more attention in geology class. We had to look up definitions of many geological terms and will try to get them right in our posts. Dave wants Mr. Jankowski to be proud.

Places we’ve stayed so far:

Sunna Guest House – recommended by a fellow travel blogger ktfox. Thanks Katie, as you said it was clean and basic but in a fantastic location, right across from the aforementioned church.

Erik the Red Guest House- just down the street from the above location and more of a bed & breakfast atmosphere. We preferred this location as we all sat at a community table for breakfast and had some wonderful conversations. True B&Bs do this and great conversations take place as a result. Meeting people from other places is the best. The owners are fabulous people and will make you feel like part of the family. Please stay here and you will feel welcome. The breakfast is very nice. They will assist with all kinds of local information.

Iceland population: 320,000

Reykjavik population: 200,000

The seas around Iceland provide the country with most of its export income, are rich in cod, halibut, shrimp, catfish, lemon sole, herring, lobster, haddock and whiting to name but a few.

We’ll include more facts as we go along…….got to go now!

Additional photos below
Photos: 49, Displayed: 33


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Diseased Lung

research lab

21st August 2012

a message from a Back to the Future fan...
I really want that sign from the bar! and that piece of chocolate cake :)
21st August 2012

Lebowski's had many really cool signs
After traveling I'll have to send you a couple of the others to read. Very cute. The cake was amazing. The people up here truly know how to bake. It is simply superb.
21st August 2012

But how do you pronounce Krfna?
Awesome scenery - I love that waterfall :) and the horses are very very special
21st August 2012

Still struggling with the language
The waterfalls are beautiful and plentiful.
21st August 2012

Nice blog & photos
Thanks Dave and Merry Jo for a nice blog on Iceland. It's firming up as a must see destination, and the recent blogs by yourselves and Ali make for tempting reading. Keep on keeping on, and I look forward to further updates.
22nd August 2012

Hi Tommy,
You must add Iceland....and Greenland! They are must do's. Hopefully, our paths will cross some day.
22nd August 2012

Your waterfalls and churches are great, but right now, I'm loving your food photos. Restaurants aren't in my budget, so I love looking at your gorgeously presented and photographed dishes. It gives us a fine taste of your adventures. Yum!
22nd August 2012

We are not eating fine meals every night
.....but those are the ones making the blog. Last night we had a roll and some cheese.
22nd August 2012

Very nice
Looks like you had better light than we did judging by your photos.
22nd August 2012

As you know ......
The fog, rain and wind come and go! We are currently in the Faroe Islands and heading back to Iceland for 10 more days. Looks like you are having a wonderful time. We enjoy following your travels.

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